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Milwaukee, Minnesota (2003)

Directed by:

Allan Mindel

Rating: 3/10

Running Time: 96 minutes

UK Certificate: 15

In wintry Wisconsin, Albert Burroughs (Troy Garrity) may be a slow thinker, but his special talent for ice-fishing has won him many championship tournaments and a lot of cash prizes. Mr McNally (Bruce Dern) employs Albert as a copyboy and keeps an eye on him, and Albert’s domineering, overprotective mother (Debra Monk) makes sure that no-one takes advantage of him, but when she is killed in a hit-and-run, the heady smell of fish and money starts to attract the vultures. Pretty con artist Tuey (Alison Folland), on the road with her hypochondriac brother Stan (Hank Harris), tells Albert that she is a Time Magazine reporter desperate to do a story on him, and a traveling salesman called Jerry James (Randy Quaid) shows up claiming to be Albert’s father – but simple, childlike Albert is a lot smarter than he looks, and knows all about baits, lures, and how to avoid getting caught.

Independent movies are supposed to be unpredictable, idiosyncratic affairs – the heartfelt personal projects of slightly warped outsiders who are driven by pain, passion or just plain madness to share their eccentric vision of the world, untainted by the tired old clichés and trite plots of Hollywood. Yet sometimes independent films can be just as slavishly formulaic as their big studio counterparts, as is illustrated by ‘Milwaukee, Minnesota’, which offers a convenient checklist of all the most common features found in your bog-standard independent production. First there is that title, parochial yet quirkily paradoxical, like ‘Paris, Texas’, ‘Happy, Texas’, and even ‘Raising Arizona’ or ‘Feeling Minnesota’. Then there is the small-town setting, the jangly soundtrack, the dreamy voice-over. All the characters are whimsically whacky, and several of them are played by old indie hands (here Bruce Dern and Randy Quaid) to lend the film much-needed credibility. Of course the main character is male, past his teens but not quite adult, and is afflicted with ‘Generic Indie Mental Problem’ (also known as ‘Forrest Gump Syndrome’), which is to say that he is retarded, but in an ill-defined sort of way that does not prevent him from being miraculously gifted and wise. There is that old indie failsafe, an entirely gratuitous transvestite character for added ‘edge’. And it is only natural for it to be suggested in the closing scenes that the main character is a sort of indie version of Christ (in this case a simple-talking fisherman with a following).

All this makes ‘Milwaukee, Minnesota’ a sort of Frankenstein’s monster on a clumsy rampage through the tropes of independent cinema. Sure, the different parts from which it is sewn together have been carefully selected to make it look like the very essence of indie, but the stitching shows too much, and it has absolutely no character or soul. Where the film wants to be charming, it seems merely calculated, and as cold and torpid as the fish that lurk beneath an icy lake. Certainly worse films have been made, but few are so patently contrived to push all the right indie buttons while failing to hit any of them.

It's Got: A mystery (on which it focusses at the expense of character), the always welcome presence of Bruce Dern, and a scene in which a transvestite checks Stan’s testicles for tumours which is as pointlessly gratuitous as it sounds.

It Needs: Soul (although it has more than enough sole).

Alternatives:

'Bad Boy Bubby', 'Rainman', 'Sling Blade'

Summary

This indie-by-numbers affair is as cold and torpid as the fish that lurk beneath an icy lake.

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